Add to bookbag
Title: Education
Original Title: Education
Volume and Page: Vol. 5 (1755), pp. 397–403
Author: César Chesneau Du Marsais
Translator: Carolina Armenteros []
Original Version (ARTFL): Link

This text is protected by copyright and may be linked to without seeking permission. Please see for information on reproduction.

Citation (MLA): Du Marsais, César Chesneau. "Education." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Carolina Armenteros. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2007. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Education," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 5. Paris, 1755.
Citation (Chicago): Du Marsais, César Chesneau. "Education." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Carolina Armenteros. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2007. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Education," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 5:397–403 (Paris, 1755).

Education is the care one takes of feeding, bringing up and instructing children; thus education has as goals, 1) the health and good constitution of the body; 2) what regards the rectitude and the instruction of the mind; 3) manners, that is the conduct of life, and social qualities.

Of Education in General. Children who come into the world, must form one day the society in which they will live. Their education is thus the most interesting subject, 1) for themselves, whom education must fashion such that they will be useful to that society, obtain its esteem, and find in it their well-being; 2) for their families, whom they must support and honor; 3) for the state itself, which must reap the fruits of the good education that the citizens that compose it receive.

All children who come into the world must be subjected to the care of education , for there is none who is born completely instructed and completely educated. So what advantage does not accrue everyday to a state whose head has had his mind cultivated early, who has learned in History that the most stable empires are exposed to revolutions; who has been as much instructed in what he owes his subjects, as in what his subjects owe to him; to whom the source, the motive, the extent and the limits of his authority have been made known; to whom it has been taught that the sole certain means of conserving it and making it be respected, is to make good use of it? Erudimini qui judicatis terram [be wise, you rulers of the earth] Psalm II, 10. What happiness that of a state in which magistrates have early learned their duties, and have manners; where each citizen is warned that in coming into the world he has received a talent to render valuable; that he is member of a political body, and that in this capacity he must contribute to the common good, search for everything that can procure true advantages to society, and avoid what can disrupt its harmony, and disturb tranquility and good order! It is evident that there is no order of citizens in a state, for whom some kind of education is not proper; education for the children of sovereigns; education for the children of the great, for those of magistrates, etc; education for the children of the countryside, where, in the same way that there are schools for learning the truths of religion, there should be also those in which the exercises, the practices, the duties and the virtues of their social state could be shown to them, so that they might act with greater knowledge.

If every kind of education were imparted with enlightenment and perseverance, the motherland would be well constituted, well governed, and protected from the insults of its neighbors.

Education is the greatest good that fathers can leave to their children. One finds only too frequently fathers who do not know their true interests, refuse to spend what is necessary for a good education , and who save nothing afterwards to provide an occupation for their children, or to lend to them an honorable office [duty] [1]; yet what duty is more useful than a good education , which commonly does not cost so much, although it is the good whose product is the greatest, the most honorable and the most sensible? It pays back every day: other goods are often dissipated; but one cannot get rid of a good education , nor, unfortunately, of a bad one, which often is such because one has not wanted to defray the expenses of a good one:

Sint Maecenates, non deerunt, Flacce, Marones [If there be many a Maecenas, Flaccus, many a Maro [2] will not be lacking]. Martial, Epigrams , VIII, 56.

You give your son to be educated by a slave , said one day an ancient philosopher to a rich father, very well, instead of one slave you shall have two .

There is much analogy between the cultivation of plants and the education of children; in one and in the other nature must furnish the base. The owner of a field cannot make it be usefully cultivated, unless the terrain is proper to what he wants to produce in it; likewise, an enlightened father, and a master who has discernment and experience, must observe their student; and after a certain period of observation, they must disentangle his penchants, his inclinations, his taste, his character, and know what he is good for, and what role, so to speak, he must play in the concert of society.

Do not force the inclinations of your children, but also do not allow them to choose lightly a station for which you foresee that they will realize in time they were not suitable. One must, as much as one can, spare them bad initiatives. Happy those children who have experienced parents capable of conducting them well in the choice of a station! A choice on which depends happiness or evil—without considering the rest of life.

It will not be useless to say a word about each of the three subjects that are the objects of every education , as we said in the beginning. One should not assign anyone to the education of a child of either sex, unless that person has reflected seriously on these three points.

I. Health . Monsieur Bronzet [sic? Brouzet], ordinary doctor of the King, has recently given us a useful work on the medical education of children (published in Paris by Cavelier, 1754) [3]. No one disputes the importance of this study, not only for early childhood, but also for all times of life. The Pagans had imagined a goddess whom they called Hygeia ; she was the goddess of health, dea salus ; this is the origin of the name of hygiene given to that branch of Medicine whose object is to give useful advice to prevent diseases, and to preserve health.

It would be desirable that when young people have attained a certain age, they should be given some knowledge of anatomy and animal economy; that they should be taught up to a certain point about the chest, the lungs, the heart, the stomach, the circulation of blood, etc. , not to look after themselves when they are ill, but to have on these points knowledge that will be always useful, and which is an essential part of our self-knowledge. It is true that Nature leads us only by instinct with regard to our conservation; and I confess that a crippled person, who would know as much as possible about all the recesses of the stomach, and how all these recesses worked, would not for that reason digest food better than an ignorant man with a robust complexion, who enjoyed good health. Yet the knowledge of which I speak is very useful, not only because it satisfies the mind, but because it enables us to prevent many illnesses, and makes it possible for us to understand what people say on the subject.

Without health, says the wise Charron, life is a burden, and even merit vanishes. What succour will wisdom bring to the greatest man, he continues, if he is stricken with the great malady or with apoplexy? Health is a gift of nature, but it is preserved, he goes on, by sobriety, by moderate exercise, by the distancing of sadness and of every passion  [4].

For young people, the most important point in this advice is temperance of every kind: the contrary vice causes a greater number of people to die than the sword, plus occidit gula quam gladius [gluttony kills more than the sword].

One begins usually by being prodigal with one’s health; and when afterwards one decides to become economical, one feels with regret that one has decided too late.

Habit of every kind has much power over us; but we do not have very precise ideas on this subject: this man has over time become accustomed to sleeping a few hours, whereas that man has never been able to do without longer sleep.

I know that among savages, and even in our countryside, some children are born with such good health, that they cross rivers swimming, endure cold, hunger, thirst, sleep deprivation, and when they fall ill, nature itself heals them without the aid of remedies. From this it follows that one must submit to the wise foresight of nature, and that one gets used to everything; but that conclusion is not right, because it is drawn from insufficient data. Those who reason thus, have no regard for the infinite number of children who succumb to such weariness, and who are victims of the prejudice, that one can get used to everything . Besides, is it not probable that those who have withstood the weariness and the hard trials of which we have spoken, would have lived much longer if they had been able to take it easier?

In a word, let us have no softness, nothing effeminate in the manner of bringing up children; but let us not believe that everything is equally good for all, and that Mithridates became used to real poison [5]. One does not get used to real poison, any more than one does to knife-stabbing. Tsar Peter wanted his sailors to accustom their children to drink only seawater: they all died. The suitability and unsuitability that exist between our bodies and other beings, attains [sic; attain] only a certain point; and that point must be shown to us by the particular experience of each one of us.

There is a continual diffusion within us of spirits and juices necessary for the conservation of life and health; these spirits and these juices must hence be replenished; yet they can only be so by nourishment analogous to the particular machine of each individual.

It would be desirable for some skilled physician, who would add experience to enlightenment and reflection, to give us a treatise on the power and the limits of habit.

I will add one more word that relates to this subject. This is that the society that interests itself with reason in the conservation of its citizens, has instituted long examinations, before allowing a private person to exercise publicly the art of healing. Yet despite these wise precautions, the taste for the marvelous and the penchant that some people have to diverge from the common rule, makes things such that when they fall ill, they would rather put themselves in the hands of private persons without character, who agree upon their ignorance themselves, and who have no resource but the mystery they make of a supposed secret, and in the imbecility of the people they dupe. See the judicious letter of Monsieur de Moncrif, in the second volume of his works, page 141  [6], on empiricist doctors [7] and charlatans. It would be useful for young people to be enlightened early on this point. I admit that sometimes disadvantages ensue from following the rules, but where do they never happen? They happen only too frequently, for example, in the construction of buildings; must one for that reason not call an architect, and put oneself in the hands of a simple worker?

II. The second object of education , is the mind that one must enlighten, instruct, adorn, and regulate. One may soften the most ferocious mind, says Horace, as long as it has the docility to give itself to instruction.

Nemo adeo ferus est, ut non mitescere possit, si modo culturae patientem commodet aurem [None is so savage that he cannot be tamed, if he will only lend a patient ear to discipline] Horace, Epistles , I, 39-40.

Docility, the condition that the poet demands in the disciple, that virtue, I say, so rare, requires a fortunate basis that nature alone can provide, but thanks to which an able teacher leads his student quite far. On the other hand, it is necessary that the teacher have the talent to cultivate minds, and that he have the art of rendering his student docile, without his student realizing that the teacher is working to render him so, failing which the teacher will not pluck the fruits of his care. He must have a sweet and sociable mind, know how to seize skillfully the moment when the lesson will produce its effect without looking like a lesson; this is why when it comes to choosing a teacher, one must prefer to the scholar who has a solid mind, the one who has less erudition, but who is sociable and judicious. Erudition is a good that one may acquire; while reason, an insinuating mind, and a sweet temper, are gifts of nature. Docendi recte sapere est principium et fons  [8] [Good sense is the principle and the source of teaching] ; in order to instruct well, one must first have right sense. But let us return to our students.

One must admit that there are species of mind that never enter into the thoughts of others; these are hard and inflexible minds, dura cervice... et cordibus et auribus. [hard necks... and hearts and ears] Acts of the Apostles, VII, 51.

There are awkward people, who never understand what is said to them in the sense that presents itself naturally, and which everyone else understands. In addition, there are certain states in which one cannot listen to instruction; such is the state of passion, the state of derangement in the organs of the brain, the state of disease, the state of old prejudice, etc. Yet when it comes to teaching, one always assumes that students have that flexible and free mind that puts the pupil in the position of understanding everything that is within his reach, and which is presented to him with order and following the generation and the natural relation between elements of knowledge.

With regard to the mind, the first years of childhood require much more care than is commonly given to them, so that it is often very difficult afterwards to erase the bad impressions that a young man has had through the discourses and the examples of people of little sense and little enlightenment, who were near him in those first years.

From the moment that a child lets it be known by his look and by his gestures that he understands what is said to him, he should be regarded as a subject proper to be submitted to the jurisdiction of education , whose goal is to form the mind, and set aside what can lead it astray. It would be desirable for him to be approached only by sensible people, and for him to see and hear nothing but good. The first instances of sensible acquiescence in our mind, or, to speak in common parlance, the first knowledge or the first ideas that form within us during the first years of our life, are as many models that it is difficult to refashion, and which later serve us as rules in the use that we make of our reason. Thus it is extremely important for a young man to acquiesce only to what is true, that is to what is , as soon as he has judgment. So keep him away from all fabulous stories, from all puerile tales of Fairies, of werewolves, of wandering Jews, of goblins, of ghosts, of wizards, of spells, told by those makers of horoscopes, those fortune-tellers male and female, those interpreters of dreams, and so many other superstitious practices that serve only to lead astray children’s reason, to frighten their imagination, and often even to make them regret having come into the world.

Persons who amuse themselves by frightening children are very reprehensible. It has often happened that the weak organs of children’s brains have been deranged for the rest of their lives, besides their mind being filled with ridiculous prejudices, etc. The more these chimerical ideas are extraordinary, the more deeply ingrained they become in the brain.

One must not blame less those who amuse themselves by tricking children, leading them into error, deluding them into believing things, and who congratulate themselves instead of being ashamed. In such instances it is the young man who has the good part; he does not yet know that there are persons whose soul is low enough to speak against their thought, and who affirm shameful falsehoods in the same tone in which honest people say the most certain truths; he has not yet learned to suspect; he puts himself in your hands, and you trick him: all those false ideas become as many exemplary ideas, which lead children’s reason astray. I would have it that instead of thus taming the mind of young people with charm and lies, one never told them anything but the truth.

One should teach them the practice of the arts, even the most common art; they would afterwards draw great advantages from this knowledge. An ancient writer complains that when young people leave school, and come into the company of other men, they believe themselves transported into a new world: ut cum in forum venerint, existiment se in alium terrarum orbem delatos  [9] [when they come into the forum, they believe themselves transported into another sphere of the earth] . How dangerous it is to let young people of both sexes acquire experience on their own and at their expense, to let them be ignorant of the fact that seducers and cheaters exist, until they have been seduced and cheated! The reading of history would supply a great number of examples that would give very useful lessons.

One should also let young people see experiments in Physics early on. One can find in the description of many machines of common usage, an ample harvest of instructive and amusing facts, capable of exciting the curiosity of young people; such are the various kinds of phosphorus, the stone of Bologna [10], inflammable powder, the effects of magnets and those of electricity, those of the rarefaction and the weight of air, etc. In the beginning it is sufficient to make the instruments well known, and show the effects that result from their combination and operation. Do you see this sort of leather ball (the eolipile [11]) ? It is empty on the inside, there is only air; observe this little pipe that is attached to it and which is connected to the inside, it is pierced at the tip; what would you do to fill this ball with water, and to empty it after it was filled? I’m going to make it fill up with water, after which I will make a squirt of water come out of it. In the beginning one shows only the facts, and delays for a later age the most probable explanations that Philosophers have imagined. How many disadvantages men who actually had merit have suffered, for not having known these little mysteries of Nature!

I am going to add a few reflections, which I know that those teachers who have zeal and discernment will be able to use amply to guide well the minds of their young students.

It is well known that children are not in a position to understand combined reasoning or assertions, which are the result of profound meditations; thus it would be ridiculous to converse with them regarding what Philosophers say about the origin of our knowledge, about the interdependence, the links, the subordination and order of ideas, about false suppositions, about bad counting, about hastiness, finally about all kinds of sophisms. But I would like for the people placed near children to be sufficiently instructed on all these points, and that when a child, for instance, in his answers or in his remarks, supposes what is being asked, I would like, I say, for his teacher to know that his student is falling into circular reasoning, but that without using that scientific expression, he made his young pupil feel that his answer is deficient, because it is the same thing that is being asked of him. Confess your ignorance: say, I do not know , rather than make a reply that explains nothing; it is as if you said that sugar is sweet because it has sweetness; is it to say something other than that it is sweet because it is sweet?

I would really like that among the persons who are destined by their station to the education of youth, some judicious teacher might be found who would give us children’s logic in the form of dialogues for the use of teachers . One could include in that work a great number of examples, which would dispose students little by little to precepts and to rules. I would have liked to report here some of these examples, but I feared they might appear too puerile.

We have already remarked, relying on Horace, that only young people who have a flexible mind can benefit from the cares of the education of the mind. But what is it to have a flexible mind? It is being in a position to listen well and to answer well; it is understanding what is said to us, precisely with the meaning that it has in the mind of the person who speaks to us, and to answer with reference to that meaning.

If you must instruct a young man who is lucky enough to have that flexible mind, you must above all be very careful not to tell him anything new that does not relate to what life experience may have taught him already.

The great secret of didactics, that is, of the art of teaching, is to be able to tease apart the hierarchy of knowledge. Before speaking of tens, know whether your young man has the idea of one ; before speaking to him of the army , show him a soldier , and teach him what is a captain , and when his imagination can represent this group of soldiers and officers, speak to him of the general.

When we come into the world, we live, but we are not at first capable of this reflection, I am, I live , and even less of this other, I feel, therefore I exist . We have not yet seen enough particular beings, to have the abstract idea of exist and existence . We are born with the faculty of conceiving and reflecting; but we cannot then say reasonably that we have this or that particular knowledge, or that we reflect on this or that individual thing, and even less that we have some general knowledge, since it is evident that general knowledge can be the result only of particular knowledge: I could not say that every triangle has three sides , if I did not know what a triangle was. When once, through the consideration of one of several particular triangles, I have acquired the exemplary idea of triangle, I decide that everything that is in conformity with this idea is triangle , and that what is not in conformity is not triangle .

How could I understand that it is necessary to give back to each what is due to him , if I still did not know what is to give back , what is to be due , or what is each ? Life experience has taught these things to us, and it is only then that we have understood the axiom.

Thus when we come into the world we have the organs necessary for speaking and all those that will afterwards serve us to walk; but in the first days of our life we do not yet speak and we do not yet walk: it is only after the organs of the brain have acquired a certain consistency, and after life experience has given us some preliminary knowledge; it is only then, I say, that we can understand some of the principles and some of the truths regarding which our teachers speak to us; they understand these principles and these truths, and it is for this reason that they imagine that their students must also understand them; but the teachers have had experience, and the students are only beginning to have experience. They have not yet acquired enough of that preliminary knowledge assumed by subsequent knowledge:

“Our soul, says Father Buffier, a Jesuit, in his Traité des premières vérités, [1724] Part III, page 8 , our soul operates only insofar as our body is disposed to such operation, through the mutual relationship and the reciprocal connection that exists between our soul and our body. The thing is indubitable, continues that knowledgeable metaphysician, and the experience of it quotidian. It even seems beyond doubt, goes on Father Buffier, in the same Traité , Part I, pages 32 and 33 , that children have acquired through experience  [12] much knowledge of sensible objects, before arriving at knowledge of the existence of God: this is what the Apostle St Paul suggests to us by these remarkable words: invisibilia enim ipsius Dei a creatura mundi per ea quae facta sunt, intellecta conspiciuntur. [For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities have been evident to the intellect, being understood from what has been made.][”] Romans, I, 20. For my part, continues Father Buffier on page 271 , [“]I know the Creator naturally only through his creatures: I can conceive an idea of him only insofar as they provide it.[”] Indeed the heavens announce his glory: caeli enarrant gloriam Dei [the heavens tell the glory of God], Psalms XVIII, 1  [13]. It is improbable that a man deprived since childhood of his senses could access easily the idea of God; but although the idea of God is not innate, and although it is not a first truth, according to Father Buffier, it does not at all follow [14]—he adds— ibid. page 33 —[“]that it is not a very natural and a very easy sort of knowledge.[”] That same, very respectable father adds, ibid. Part III, page 9 that [“]since the relationship of dependence whereby the body belongs to the soul does not mean that the body is spiritual, in the same way the relationship of dependence whereby the soul belongs to the body, does not mean that the soul is corporeal. Those two parts of man have in their operations an intimate connection; but the connection between two parts does not make it such that one is the other.” [15]

Indeed, the hand of a clock marks the hours of the day in turn only through the movement that it receives from the dented wheels, and which is communicated to them by the spring: water could not boil without fire; does it follow from that that the gears are of the same nature as the spring, and that water has the same nature as fire?

We perceive clearly that the soul is not the body, in the same way that fire is not water, says Father Buffier , Traité des premières vérités, Part III, page 10 , thus we cannot reasonably deny, he adds, that the body and mind are two different substances. [16]

It is in consequence of the principles that we have exposed, and as a result of the subordination in the linking of our ideas, that some teachers are persuaded that in order to teach young people a dead language, Latin , for instance, or Greek , one must not begin by Latin or Greek declensions; because since French nouns are not declined, children in saying musa, musae, musam, musarum, musis, etc. are not yet able to see where they are going; it is more simple and more in conformity with the way in which ideas link up in the mind, to make them study Latin first in an interlinear manner whereby the Latin words are explained in French, and arranged in the order of simple construction, which alone lends meaning. When the children say they remember the meaning of each word, one shows them those same Latin expressions in the practice book where they actually find them again in the same order, but without French under the Latin words. The young people are then delighted to come up on their own with the French word that corresponds with the Latin word, and that the interlinear version has shown to them. This exercise encourages them and avoids disgust, familiarizing them first through sentiment and practice with the purpose of declensions, and with the use that the ancients made of them.

After some days of exercise, when the children have seen sometimes Diana , sometimes Dianam , Apollo, Apollinem, etc. and which in French is always Diane , and always Apollon , they are the first to ask the reason for these differences, and it is then that they are taught to decline.

Thus to make known the taste of a fruit, instead of taking pleasure in vain discourse, it is more simple to show that fruit and to make it be tasted; otherwise one teaches how to guess, how to draw without a model, one wants to harvest something from a field that one has not sown.

Afterwards, when they see a word that is in the same case as the one to which it refers, or in a different case, Diana soror Apollinis [Diana is the sister of Apollo] , the teacher explains to them the relationship of identity, and the relationship or reason of determination. Diana soror , those two words are in the same case, because Diana and sister is the same person: soror Apollinis, Apollinis determines soror , that is to say, makes Diana known as a sister . All of syntax is reduced to these two relationships as I said a long time ago. This method of beginning by explaining, seems to me the only one that follows the order, the dependence, the linkage and the subordination of ideas. See Case, Construction, and the various works that have been written to explain this method, to make its practice easier, and to answer some objections that were first made with a little too much precipitation. I remember, besides, that in my youth I did not like it when, after having explained to me some lines of Cicero, which I was just beginning to understand, they put me immediately to the task of explaining ten or twelve verses of Virgil; it is as if, in order to explain French to a foreigner, one made him read a scene or a few plays of Racine, and that in the same lesson one began to read a scene from The Misanthrope or some other play by Molière. Is this a practice that makes one take interest in what one reads, that makes one develop a taste for it, and contributes to forming the idea of the exemplary and the beautiful?

Let us pursue our reflections on the cultivation of the mind.

We have already remarked that man is capable of many states of mind. There is especially the state of sleep, which is a kind of periodical, and yet necessary, infirmity, wherein, as in many other maladies, we cannot make use of that flexibility and that freedom of mind that is so necessary for us to distinguish truth from error.

Observe that during sleep we cannot think of any object, unless we have seen it before, either as a whole, or in part: the image of the sun, or that of the stars, or that of a flower, will never present themselves to the imagination of a newborn child who sleeps, nor to that of a man born blind who wakes. If sometimes the image of a bizarre object that never existed in nature presents itself to us during sleep, that is because through the use of eyesight we have seen, at various times and in various objects, the various members of which that chimerical Being is composed. This is the kind of picture of which Homer speaks at the beginning of his poetic art; the head of a beautiful woman, the neck of a horse, the feathers of different species of birds, lastly the tail of a fish; such are the parts whose whole forms that strange picture that never had an original.

Newborn children that have not yet seen anything, and those born blind, could not make such combinations in their sleep; they have only the intimate feeling which is a necessary consequence of the fact that they are living and animated beings, and of the fact that they have organs where the blood and the spirits circulate, united to a spiritual substance through a link whose secret the Creator has reserved to himself.

The feeling of which I speak could not be in the first instance a conscious feeling, as we have already remarked, because the child cannot yet have an idea of his own individuality, or of himself. That conscious feeling of me only comes to him afterwards through the aid of memory, which reminds him of the various kinds of sensations with which he has been affected; but at the same time he remembers and he is conscious of having always been the same individual, although affected at different times and differently; there is the me.

An indolent man who after working for a few hours abandons himself to his indolence and his laziness, without preoccupying himself with any particular object, is he not, at least during a few moments, in the situation of the newborn child, who feels because he is alive, but who does not yet have that conscious idea, I feel?

We have already observed, with Father Buffier, that our soul operates only insofar as our body is in a certain disposition ( Traité des premières vérités, Part III, page 8 ): the thing is indubitable and the experience quotidian, adds that respectable philosopher. ( Ibid .) [17]

Indeed, do not the organs of the senses and those of the brain seem destined to execute the operations of the soul as it is united with the body? And since the body finds itself in various states according to age, according to the air of the various climates where it lives, according to the food with which it feeds itself, etc. and since it is subject to different diseases, due to the various alterations that happen to its parts; in the same way, the mind is subject to various infirmities, and finds itself in various states, due either to the disposition of the organs destined to execute its functions, or to the various accidents that happen to those organs.

When the members of our bodies have acquired a certain consistency, we walk, we are at first able to carry small loads from one place to another; afterwards we can lift and transport bigger ones; but if some obstacle impedes the course of animal minds, none of these movements can be executed.

In the same way, when we have arrived at a certain age, the organs of our senses and those of our brain find themselves in the state necessary to enable the soul to exercise its functions with a certain degree of rectitude, according to the institution of nature, which the general experience of all men teaches us; one says then that one has arrived at the age of reason. But if it happens that the working of these organs is troubled, the functions of the soul are interrupted: that is what one sees only too often in imbeciles, in fools, in people with epilepsy, in people with apoplexy, in patients who have an excitement in the brain, lastly in those who indulge in violent passions.

That proud reason that people vaunt so much,
[...] a bit of wine clouds it, a child seduces it.
Des Houlieres, Idyle des moutons [n.d.].

Thus the mind has its diseases like the body, indocility, stubbornness, prejudice, precipitateness, inability to listen to the reflections of others, passions, etc .

But can one not cure the diseases of the mind, says Cicero? One can cure well those of the body, he adds. His nulla - nè est adhibenda curatio? an quòd corpora curari possint, animorum medicina nulla sit? [What? Can one not attempt to apply a cure? [...] Is it because the body will admit of a cure, that there is no medicine whatever for the mind?] Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, Book III, Chapter II . [“]Multiple physical observations in medicine and anatomy, says the learned author of the Économie animale , tome III, page 215, second edition, published in Paris by Cavelier 1747  [18] prove to us that our knowledge depends on the organic faculties of the body.[”] That testimony added to that of Father Buffier and of so many other respectable scholars, makes it evident that there are two kinds of natural means to cure the diseases of the mind, at least those that can be cured; the first means is diet, temperance, continence, the use of food proper to cure each kind of mental disease ( See Médecine de l’esprit , by Monsieur Le Camus, published by Ganneau, [sic; Ganeau] [2 vols.], Paris, 1753 ), avoidance of and privation from everything that can irritate those diseases. It is certain that when the stomach is not overloaded, and digestion is easy, the liquors flow without alteration in their channels, and the soul exercises its functions without obstacle.

Besides these means, Cicero exhorts us to study the lessons of wisdom, and above all to have a sincere desire to be cured. This is a beginning of health that makes us avoid everything that can keep the disease alive. Animi sanari voluerint, praeceptis sapientium paruerint; fiet ut sine ullâ dubitatione sanentur. [Those minds that are disposed to be cured, and submit to the precepts of the wise, may undoubtedly recover a healthy state] . Cicero, Tusculan Disputations , Book III, Chapter 3 .

When we are in a position to reflect on our sensations, we realize that we have feelings, of which some are agreeable, and the others more or less painful; and we cannot doubt that these feelings or sensations are excited in us by a cause different from ourselves, since we cannot make them be born, or suspend them, or make them cease precisely as we like. Do not experience and our intimate feeling teach us that these feelings come to us from an external cause, and that they are excited within us on the occasion of impressions that objects make on our senses, according to a certain immutable order established in all of nature, and recognized everywhere where there are men?

It is on the basis of these impressions that we judge objects and their properties; these first impressions give us occasion later to reflect in a manner that always presupposes those impressions, independently of the habitual or actual disposition of the brain, and in accordance with the laws of the union of soul and body. One must always think of the soul in its state of waking, when it knows amply that it is not shrouded in the darkness of sleep; one must suppose it in a state of health, in a word in that state in which, freed from all passion and all prejudice, it exercises its functions with enlightenment and freedom: since during sleep, or even during waking, we cannot think of any object, unless it has made some impression on us since we have been in the world.

Since we cannot by our sole will avoid the effect of a sensation, for example, avoid seeing during the day, when our eyes are open, nor excite, nor keep nor make the least sensation cease; since it is a constant axiom in Philosophy that our thoughts add nothing to what objects are in themselves, cogitare tuum nil ponit in re [your thinking puts nothing in the thing] ; since all effect supposes a cause; since no being can modify itself, and since everything that changes, is changed by something else; since the elements of our knowledge are not particular beings, and since it is only in knowing ourselves , in the same way that each look from our eyes looks only at us , and that all these words, knowledge, idea, thought, judgment, life, death, nothingness, sickness, health, sight , etc. are only abstract terms that we have invented on the model and in imitation of words that designate real beings, like Sun, Moon, Earth, Stars , etc. and these abstract terms have seemed convenient to convey what we think to other men, who make the same use of it as ourselves, which dispenses us from resorting to periphrases and circumlocutions that would make discourse languish; given all these considerations, it seems evident that each individual element of knowledge must have its particular cause, or its own motive.

That motive must have two conditions equally necessary and inseparable.

  1. It must be external, that is it must not come from our own imagination, as it comes in sleep: cogitare tuum nil ponit in re.
  2. It must be its own motive, that is the one supposed by the particular element of knowledge, without which that thought would never have appeared in the mind.

Some philosophers of antiquity had imagined that there were Antipodes; the proofs that they gave of their supposition were quite probable, but they were only probable; whereas today when we go to the Antipodes, and come back from them; today when there is established commerce between the peoples who live there and ourselves, we have a legitimate motive, an external motive, a proper motive, to affirm that there are Antipodes.

That Greek who imagined that all the ships that arrived in the Pyraeus belonged to him, judged only from what was happening in his imagination and in the internal sense, which is the organ of the acquiescence of the mind; there was no external and suitable motive; what he thought had no relation to the reality of things: cogitare tuum nil ponit in re . A watch always marks some hour; but it marks it well only when it is in accordance with the Sun: our intimate feeling, aided by circumstances, makes us feel the relation between our judgment and the reality of things. When we are awake, we feel that we do not sleep; when we are in good health, we are persuaded that we are not ill: thus when we judge on the basis of a legitimate motive, we are convinced that our judgment is well founded, and that we would be wrong to judge differently. Souls who have the good fortune to be united with well-made minds, move from the state of passion, or of error and prejudice, to the tranquil state of reason, where they exercise their functions with enlightenment and freedom.

It would be easy to report a great number of examples, to demonstrate the necessity of an external, proper, legitimate motive in all our judgments, even those that regard faith: Fides ex auditu, auditus autem per verbum Christi [Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is also heard through the word of Christ] , says St Paul ( Romans , X, 17).

“On points so sublime, says Father Buffier, ( Traité des premières vérités, Part III, page 237 ), we find a judicious and plausible motive, a certain one, that cannot make us go astray , to submit our feeble natural intelligence to the infinite intelligence of God... who has revealed certain truths, and to the wise authority of the Church which teaches us that God has effectively revealed them. If one attended to these first truths in the science of Theology, adds Father Buffier ( ibid .), their study would become much more easy and more abridged, and the result of it would be more solid and more extensive.” [19]

It would thus be a very useful practice to ask a young man often the motive of his judgment, on even very common occasions, especially when one realizes that he is in the process of imagining things, and that he is saying what is not substantiated.

When young people are able to begin serious study, it is a very useful practice, after having taught them the different kinds of government, to make them read gazettes, with geographical maps and with dictionaries that explain certain words that often even the teacher does not understand. This practice is at first disagreeable to the young people, because they are still not aware of anything, and what they read does not link up in their minds with acquired ideas. But little by little this reading interests them, especially when their vanity is flattered by the praise that older people purposefully give them on that point.

I know certain judicious teachers who, to impart to young people certain useful knowledge, make them read and explain to them the state of France and the royal almanac; and I believe this practice to be very useful.

One would still have to speak of manners and social qualities. But we have so many good books on this subject, that I think I must refer the reader to them.

We have in the military school a model of education , which all persons who are in charge of bringing up young people, should try to emulate; either with regard to health, food, cleanliness, decency, etc . or with regard to what concerns the cultivation of the mind. People never lose sight of the principal aim of the establishment, and they work in shifts to acquire the knowledge related to that object: to this kind [of knowledge] belong Languages, Geometry, Fortifications, the science of Numbers, etc . It is teachers skilled in each of these subjects who have been chosen to teach them.

As for morals, they are in safety there, as much thanks to good examples, as to the impossibility in which young people find themselves to acquire relations that could divert them from their duty. They are enlightened at all times and in all places. Perpetual vigilance never loses sight of them: this vigilance is exercised during the day and during the night, by wise persons who succeed each other in shifts. Happy are the young people who have the good fortune to be accepted in that school! They will come out with a fortified character, with a mind proper to their station, with a cultivated mind, with morals that the habit of many years will have protected from seduction: lastly with the feelings of gratitude, with which one can see that they are already affected; firstly toward the powerful King, who like a tender father procures for them such great advantages; secondly toward the enlightened minister, who favors the execution of so beautiful a project; thirdly, toward the zealous persons who preside immediately over this execution, who guide it with wisdom, with firmness, and with a lack of self-interest that cannot be sufficiently praised. See Military school, Study, Class, College, etc.


1. [Dumarsais uses here the word ‘charge’, which in eighteenth-century usage carries the dual meaning of ‘office’ and ‘duty’.]

2. [Maro was the name of Virgil, and Flaccus of Horace.]

3. [Brouzet (de Béziers), Essai sur l’éducation médicinale des enfans, et sur leurs maladies (2 vols. Paris: Cavelier, 1754). Some confusion apparently exists regarding the author’s precise name. The name of Bronzet is given here by Dumarsais to the author of the Essai , who is identified on the title page of that work as Brouzet, ‘Ordinary Doctor of the King, of the Royal Infirmary and of the Hospitals of Fontainebleau’. Yet Bronzet is also the name appended to a five-page letter currently held at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France and written in the late 1740s by a ‘Doctor of the Hospitals of the King at Fontainebleau’, quite probably the same individual. See Lettre écrite par M. Bronzet,... à M. Chomel, médecin ordinaire du Roi, au sujet des maux de gorge. ( - Réponse de M. Chomel, 2 juillet 1749). ]

4. [The reference is to Book I, Chapter V of Pierre Charron’s De la Sagesse , but Dumarsais is paraphrasing rather than quoting. The original text reads: ‘C’est la seule chose qui merite que l’on employe tout, voyre la vie mesme pour l’avoir, car sans elle la vie est sans goust, voire est injurieuse, la vertu et la sagesse ternissent et s’evanouissent sans elle: quel secours apportera au plus grand homme qui soit, toute la sagesse, s’il est frappe du haut mal, d’une Apoplexie? [...] Or combien que ce soit un don de nature, [...] si est-ce que ce qui vient apres, Le lait, Le bon reglement de vivre, qui consiste en sobrieté, mediocre exercice, se garder de tristesse, et toute sorte d’émotion, la conserve fort’. [It is the only thing that merits using everything, even life itself, to have it, for without it life has no taste, nay it is injurious, and virtue and wisdom become tarnished and vanish without it. For what succour can all of wisdom bring to the greatest of men if he is stricken with the great malady, with an Apoplexy? [...] Yet though it is a gift of nature, what comes afterwards, milk, and the good regulation of living, which consists in sobriety, moderate exercise, keeping oneself from sadness, and all kinds of emotion, can conserve it well.’ See Charron, De la Sagesse (Tours: Fayard, 1986), p. 67.]

5. [An allusion to the suicide attempt of Mithridates VI of Pontus. According to Appian of Alexandria’s Roman History (XVI), Mithridates took poison after being defeated by Pompey but failed to kill himself due to his built-up immunity to poisonous drugs.]

6. François-Augustin Paradis de Moncrif, ‘Lettre à Monsieur D’Astruc sur les charlatans’, Oeuvres de Monsieur de Moncrif, Lecteur de la Reine (3 vols. Paris: Brunet, 1751), II, 141-161.

7. [The term employed here by Dumarsais, and by Moncrif in his letter, is ‘empyriques’. Moncrif (p. 143) defines an ‘empyrique’ as ‘an unknown man, deprived most frequently of common sense, who announces his knowledge of Medicine only by assuring that he is not a doctor, and that he effects marvelous cures’. The Encyclopédie ’s article ‘Medicine’ by Louis de Jaucourt describes ‘la médecine empyrique’ as the very first, primeval medicine, which arose from chance, natural instinct, and unforeseen events, and thenceforth developed through analogical reasoning and the accumulation of a corpus of knowledge derived from experience. (This latter aspect prompts me to translate ‘empyrique’ literally as ‘empiricist doctor’). Jaucourt avers that this kind of medicine held sway until the time of Hippocrates, the father of ‘la médecine dogmatique’].

8. [Dumarsais alters here a verse of Horace, who writes, in ‘De arte poetica (ad Pisones)’, Epistles , II, 309, ‘ Scribendi [my emphasis; ‘writing’] recte sapere est et principium et fons’.]

9. [This citation, taken from Petronius’ Satyricon (I), is erroneous. The original text reads as follows: ‘ut, cum in forum venerint, putent se in alium orbem terrarum delatos’]

10. [A reference to silvery white stones with phosphorescent properties discovered in 1603 on Mount Paderno near Bologna.]

11. [The eolipile, or ‘ball of Aeolus’, is a machine first described by Hieron of Alexandria that makes use of the physical properties of water vapour. This machine consists of a hermetically sealed furnace partly filled with boiling water. On the top, the furnace is linked by a hollow tube to an empty ball that can revolve horizontally. Attached to this ball are two further hollow tubes, perpendicular to the axis of rotation, which let out the water vapour that propels the ball to turn. The eolipile has often been referred to as the first steam engine.]

12. [This italicized phrase has been simply inserted by Dumarsais and is absent from Buffier’s original text. Buffier’s argument is rather that knowledge of God’s existence is neither innate nor common-sensical, but that it may nonetheless be acquired through reasoning and that it is as such natural to humankind. Thus while in Buffier’s view children possess a knowledge of sensible things that is anterior to knowledge of God, that does not necessarily mean, as Dumarsais will argue, that knowledge derives solely from the senses. In keeping with the epistemological paradigm of the Encyclopédie , however, Dumarsais gives Buffier a Lockean spin. See Claude Buffier, Traité des premières veritez et de la source de nos jugements, où l’on examine le sentiment des philosophes de ce temps sur les premières notions des choses (Paris: Veuve Mongé, 1724), Part I, pp. 31-4. Buffier’s ambiguous straddling of innatism and sensualism is otherwise suggested by his status as a dual heir of Locke and Descartes. See Gabriel Compayré, Histoire critique des doctrines de l’éducation en France depuis le seizième siècle (7th ed. Paris: Hachette, 1904), V, p. 147.]

13. [The Biblical quotation is an addition by Dumarsais.]

14. [Up to here, this sentence is also Dumarsais’.]

15. [Buffier, Traité des premières veritez , Part III, pp. 8-9.]

16. [Buffier, Ibid. , pp. 10-11.]

17. [A reiteration of the passage quoted above. See endnote 9.]

18. [The work referred to here is none other than the second edition of François Quesnay’s Essai physique sur l'oeconomie animale , which included the famous passage on natural rights. The sentence is extracted from Quesnay’s sensualist critique of Malebranche’s innatism.]

19. [Dumarsais has again altered Buffier’s original text and added the italicized phrase, this time to fit his rhetorical purposes. In closing his Traité , Buffier advises the ‘adversaries of the faith’ to submit their feeble intelligence to the authority of God and Church; while Dumarsais ostensibly wishes to advise this course of action to all at large. See Buffier, Traité , Part III, pp. 236-7.]